Monday, December 26, 2016

On Winter




Winter is hard. The older you are, the harder it gets.

Winter is when history was invented. People stay indoors, huddled around fires, and make chronicles. The Plains Indians painted their history on buffalo hides – the so-called "Winter Count," pictures devised as a mnemonic so that the significant events of each year could be recalled. The Dakota and the old Anglo-Saxons counted years by "winters." Anyone can survive a Summer or Spring or Fall. It is an accomplishment to survive a Winter.



I developed a peculiar skill. Standing outdoors, I closed my eyes, felt the breeze on my skin, listened to the sounds around me, and, opened my mouth, to taste the air. The objective was to ascertain the temperature in degrees fahrenheit. After a minute or so, being careful not to overthink this, I would derive a temperature, imagine it in my mind, and, then, get into my car, start the engine and compare my impression with air temperature reading displayed on my console. Without any practice, I achieved uncanny accuracy – I had become, as it were, a human thermometer. If I registered the temperature as 13 degrees above zero, the display in my car confirmed this. My temperature-sensing capability was extraordinary, a gift from God.

There are many clues to the temperature. All senses participate in determining temperature except the eyes. The eyes grasp appearances and the cold is something more integral, more essential than what can be seen – a bright day with a cloudless sky full of sun may be, in fact, terribly cold. A grey murky evening in which even the trees seem to shudder may be warm, full of spring-like breezes. More accurate are the ears and tongue. Twenty-below zero is a terrifying silence riven with strange, remote fracturing sounds. The air tastes of acetylene and your teeth ring like bells. At zero, the breeze is warm and furry with wood smoke. Creatures are active under the snow: you can hear them burrowing. Twenty-five is moist, placid, conversational. You can smell dog excrement and worms.

It was 17 below zero when I nearly perished in my car. I had gone to work, a drive of a mere five blocks in my new Honda. Since my coat is bulky and makes it hard for me to fasten my seat-belt, I was wearing layers of clothing – a tee-shirt, shirt, another flannel shirt on top of that, then, a sweater, then, another sweater. The top layer sweater was bulky and had long sleeves dangling down below the tips of my fingers. At lunch time, I darted out to my car, feeling the crisp and deadly air all about me, pulled the car door shut hurriedly, and, then, drove back to my house where I planned to make myself a ham sandwich.

I drove into my driveway, pushed the button to stop my car, and, then, tried to open my door. The door didn’t respond. It was locked against me. I wondered if I had inadvertently triggered a child-lock. I pushed some buttons, caused the windows to rise and fall, and, then, tried the door again. It still wouldn’t open. This was odd and frustrating. I unlatched my seat-belt and threw my weight against the locked door, but it didn’t budge. It seemed that I was trapped in my car.

I pounded on my steering wheel with frustration and the cry of the horn, like a wounded animal, frightened me. But, then, I decided that I should calm myself and take objective stock of the situation. Feeling around the edges of the recalcitrant door, I discovered that about six inches of my bulky top-most sweater was caught between the door and its frame. Apparently, the door’s locking mechanism would not unlatch so long as part of my clothing was caught.

The portion of sweater that was trapped between door and frame was part of the sleeve over my left arm. An idea occurred to me: I would have to gnaw off my arm to escape. For a moment, the horror of the situation flooded me and I was drenched in sweat. Then I bent down and, gnashing my teeth, began to chew through the fleshy part of my left fore-arm. This was hard and painful work and, after a half-dozen bites, I paused and considered whether this was really the only way to escape the car. In fact, if I chewed off my arm, the sleeve would still be trapped in the door and the door would still not open and I would be in shock, sans hand and arm. So I decided to alter my course: by thrashing and writhing, I was able to wriggle out of the sweater. This maneuver required me to bend in places where I am not jointed and so my back and the flesh over my ribs went into a spasm. I twisted and wriggled like a fish out of water and, almost passed-out. When the darkness cleared, I found that I was holding my sweater on my lap. But the sweater was still pinned in the door. I pulled and pulled at the sweater but could get no purchase on the garment because the crimp was too close to me and I was applying force from a distance of six or eight inches – I couldn’t get back far enough away from the door to really pull hard on the trapped garment.

I was gasping for air and, now, suffering pangs of terror. What if I had to spend the rest of the winter trapped in the car? What if the door would never open? Did that cramp in my stomach mean that I needed to have a bowel movement? I leaned to my right, stretching sideways, and was able to reach the right-hand passenger door with the tips of my fingers. Extending my body until my tendons and sinews began to snap, I was able to push open the door on the right side of the car. At least, the other doors didn’t share the obstinacy of the door with which I was battling. But, now, that I had the door open, what next? Somehow, I would have to crawl over the central console and the gear-shift to exit from the right front door. How would that be possible? I wriggled around some more, contorted myself into a ball, and tried to slip between the gear-shift lever and the steering wheel. But this only induced more flexion at places where I am not naturally jointed and so my muscles flared into a red spasm again and I collapsed into the seat defeated. If I tried to crawl over the console, undoubtedly, I would find myself impaled on the gear-shift – I would have the gear-shift’s wedge-shaped handle thrust up into my rectum and, in this undignified posture, the car would have to be towed to the emergency room and disbelieving ER doctors would have to somehow unscrew me from the car’s lever on which I was impaled. No one would believe that this had occurred by accident and I would be accused of all sorts of unnatural acts. It would be very much like the time that I accidentally sat on a pop bottle while buck-naked and had the narrow end of the vessel thrust up my ass to the point that a suction effect occurred and I was unable to remove the bottle without disemboweling myself. At the ER, no one was willing to give me the benefit of the doubt and, although the libel was never made explicit, I was thought to have been engaged in some kind of carnal exercise so as to result in the bottle becoming lodged in my fundament in that manner. No this wouldn’t do at all and so I decided that it would be fruitless to try to escape by crawling over the center console.

I decided to engage the mechanism to recline the front seat as much as possible. Perhaps, I could make the seat horizontal and, then, somehow push myself to the rear of the car with my heels, sliding on my shoulders and spine into the back seat from which I could extricate myself. But the seat declined only to about 45 degrees and this didn’t seem to give me enough space between the top of the neck-rest and the ceiling of the car to squeeze myself into the back seat. And, it seemed, very unlikely to me that I would be able to caterpillar myself over the seats and into the back of the car. So this plan, also, failed.

There was nothing for me to do but drive to my office and hope that someone could bring a sledge-hammer or a cutting torch to the door to rip me out of my metal prison. Uneasily, I drove my car to the office. It was the end of year and big farming families had gathered to divide the parcels of land owned by recently deceased patriarchs among themselves. Every single parking space outside the office was occupied with pick-up trucks or made-in-America Buicks and Chryslers. I circumnavigated the parking lot and watched the farmers trooping up the sidewalk to the reception lobby and it was obvious that there was no place to park close to the door or the windows of my office building. Tears blurred my vision. I pulled up in the alleyway and looked over the palisade of pick-up trucks and, then, I hit my horn, short dot-dash-dot honks to signify SOS. No one came to my rescue. I panicked and beat at the horn with my fists until they were bloody. The din was enough to raise the dead but it didn’t draw anyone from inside the office.

I drove away from my office, wiping the tears out of my eyes. My bladder felt full. Everywhere, Christmas decorations beckoned to me and the traffic on the roadways was bright and merry. But I was trapped in my car with no hope of escaping. And, so, the holiday decorations seemed to me nothing more than a bitter and cruel taunt.



Someone must have read poems to me when I was a small child. I don’t recall the voice that was reading or the occasion or any inflections in that reading. No visual memory remains – perhaps, I had my eyes closed when the verses were read to me. But I know that certain poems were read aloud to me because I have always known them, because they are integral to my thought and intertwined, in some way, with the genetic material of my imagination. One of these poems is a little verse by Shakespeare describing winter. When I thought of this poem, I had no idea, at first, where to locate the text. Then, it occurred to me that the verse was printed in Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren’s Understanding Poetry, a book that has also always somehow been known to me. (I think my father took a course in poetry when he was studying at Iowa State University in 1957 or 1958 – the text book for that course was a big grey volume incorporating two anthologies edited by Louis Untermeyer: Modern British Poetry and Modern American Poetry. However, my guess is that the Brooks and Warren volume was also required reading for the course.) My memory was correct and it’s my surmise that the Shakespeare poem about winter was read to me from Understanding Poetry.

Poems don’t format well in this blog and so must apologize that the verse, actually one of two seasonal poems concluding Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor Lost, will not look right on the computer:

When icicles hang by the wall

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in the pail,

When Blood is nipped and ways be foul.

Then nightly sings the staring owl.


Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doth blow,

And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian’s nose looks red and raw

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl.

Then nightly sings the staring owl.


Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note

While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

This poem seems to me beyond praise, something akin to Brueghel’s mysterious Hunters in the Snow, a wonderfully precise account that is somehow perfectly general and uniquely specific. The poet’s eye begins outside with icicles against a wall – not portrayed as something dangling or pendant from an eave, but rather an obstacle, a curtain that veils the building and, perhaps, obscures it’s door, perhaps, making it hard to come inside. We see those whose work requires that they be outside: Dick the shepherd blowing on his fingernails, Tom bringing in logs for a fire, the farmer delivering milk that is frozen – the inversion "milk comes frozen home", an oddity required by the poem’s ballad meter (four stresses per line) emphasizing the strangeness of the frozen milk and that fact it is the "coming", that is, the milk’s delivery through the icy landscape that has resulted in this curious state. After an abstract line about Blood being nipped and ways that are foul – again images that remain resolutely outside – we see the "staring" owl. Of course, we could not see the owl’s stare unless we were outside and, so, the poet has projected us into his frigid landscape. But, then, the owl, whose objective stare, I think, defines the poem, utters a challenge to the reader – sounds: "Who are you?", an inquiry that also means "where are you?" within the poem’s precise configuration of outside cold and inside warmth. And, then, the sound carries – it penetrates into the kitchen where we see the other central figure in the little community that the poem defines, "greasy Joan", the kitchen maid who is "keeling" a pot. The owl’s nocturnal cry, a sound that embodies the cold and loneliness of winter, bridges outside and inside. Presumably, Joan hears the owl’s cry as she skims grease, probably some kind of animal fat, from the boiling pot. At this point, the poem is enormous, as vast as all of winter – we see the hills where the shepherds abide, the icicles, the muddy and desolate roads, the vast eyes of the owl defining this landscape and we can smell the rank odor of animal fat being rendered, big mammals slaughtered in the winter-time so that their meat can be frozen.

The second stanza of the poem takes place mostly indoors. People have caught colds from their work outside and they are coughing violently – so much so that the tedious words of the preacher can’t be heard. People in the community have runny noses that look red and raw. A glance out the window shows little birds brooding in the snow. Crab apples are roasting in a bowl and the liquid in them, a distillation of Summer and Fall, hisses as it escapes and, then, again the sound of the owl, the poem’s central consciousness, the objective eye that beholds winter, penetrates the kitchen asking a question that no one can answer while "greasy Joan doth keel the pot." The owl’s enigmatic cry is "merry." Why? Because the poem pivots on the distinction between cold outside and steamy warmth inside – and we are inside, warm beside the hearth: hence, the cry of winter, the owl’s inquiry, is "merry" to us. It is like being warm under covers in bed and hearing the wind of the blizzard howl outside.

Great lyric poems swivel between opposing poles of meaning. It is cold outside and warm indoors and this is dramatized by Shakespeare’s lyric. The owl’s stare is objective, indifferent, general. This stare, signifying a portion of the poet’s perspective, contrasts with "greasy Joan" who seems blind, a figure bent over a steaming pot, greasy with rendered animal fat. But "greasy Joan" who is named like Dick and Tom and Marian define a specific community, real individuals in a real, intensely defined space. Thus, the poem whirls between extremes of indifferent objectivity, the outside defined by winter’s cold, and the subjective inside, the human world comprised by this tiny community of named individuals. Somehow the poem sutures together inside and outside, extreme cold with extreme heat (hissing crabs, the steam enveloping Joan and making her greasy), and, finally, the objective generality of the winter, the white season, and the subjective interior formed by the hamlet of people named by the poem.



Snow had fallen all day. And as the day lengthened, the temperature increased until now, an hour after sunset, it was about 33 degrees.

New-fallen snow conceals the odor-markers by which dogs navigate and my Labrador Retriever, Frieda, was confused and skittish. The familiar signposts in her landscape had been eradicated by the heavy, wet snow covering everything and, it seemed to me, that she was afraid that the dogs that we heard barking within houses might plunge forth and attack her. Accordingly, I led the dog on her leash and we walked gingerly between the heaps of snow cast-up by the snow-blowers and making trenches of the sidewalks. Sometimes, a small tree heavily laden with wet snow cast down wet clots onto my shoulders and the dog’s back.

It was two days before Christmas and the fresh-fallen snow smelled like a lake in early spring, wet and clean and inert. The snow was very white and it reflected the light from cars and front porches and street lamps so that the entire landscape was faintly phosphorescent, glowing with a blue-grey radiance. In the distance, storm clouds dipped over the lights downtown and caught a little of the faint tomato-colored radiance from them before ascending once more into the sky.

The dog was panting. The moist air seemed very warm. Music came from an alleyway – someone was playing Adestes Fidelis from within a garage or an enclosed porch. The tones wafted over the quiet streets and the snowy lawns.

I was wearing a warm cap and had on white athletic socks within my tennis shoes. With head and feet warm, I thought that it would be very comfortable to cast aside all the rest of my clothing and so clad only heel and skull, go naked through the winter. The tennis shoes would keep the cold off my feet and the smoke stack of my head would be capped by a furry and warm hat and the rest of my body would tingle like shaken jingle bells as I made my way through the melting snow.

Friday, December 16, 2016

On a "License to Kill"



The people that I know who are licensed to kill are maddeningly obtuse about the exercise of that privilege. Once, a Navy Seal friend of mine suggested we buy some booze at a crowded liquor store near Lake and Chicago. There was a noisy queue at the cash register, most of the people drunk and disorderly, hooting at one another as they waited to exchange greasy 20 dollar bills for packs of malt liquor. I suggested to my friend that he execute a few of the people ahead of us or, at least, brandish his silencer-equipped 9 mm short-magazine Walther to speed things along. My friend sniffed at me disdainfully and said that would be an abuse of power.

A couple years later, I represented a CIA operative in a divorce. On the way to Court, we ran into a traffic jam and a guy driving a pickup truck with double Vikings flags waving gaily in the wind cut in ahead of us. I suggested to my client that he gun down the offending motorists. He unholstered his .50 Smith & Wesson and fired twice, shooting off the antennae to which the purple pennants were attached, but refused to kill the driver of the pick-up. "What is the use of a license to kill," I asked, "if you can’t use it?" The CIA agent winked at me and said that, maybe, he should execute the Judge and the opposing lawyer in his case. "The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers," he said. "Present company excepted?" I asked. He nodded. At the Courthouse, there were motions and counter-motions, arguments and counter-arguments but no one was shot.

The idea of the "license to kill" as a warrant to murder adversaries of a State-sanctioned and covert mission arises in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. The concept is mentioned in Fleming’s first book, Casino Royale and, later, in his second novel, Live and Let Live. Bond says that the license is one that is retroactively granted to excuse past homicides. In Casino Royale, he says that the "00" nomenclature means that he has been granted official immunity for two prior killings – each "0" representing one authorized homicide. Bond explains that the 0 "mean(s_ that you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of an assignment." In later books, the idea that the "license to kill" can be granted only retroactively is blurred and, by this time, the lonely 7 in Bond’s ID number is now at the tail of an enormous number of zeroes. Although the 16th Bond film is entitled License to Kill, the movie doesn’t really explore that concept.

During hearings about Princess Diana’s death, speculated by some to have been a killing targeted by the Royal Family and MI 6, a spy named Sir Richard Billing Dearlove testified to a government commission. Dearlove said MI 6 did, in fact, grant licenses to kill – he described these as "Class 7" authorizations. Presumably a "Class 7" authorization arises under Section 7 of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act. This legislation authorizes "crown servants", that is spies and other government officials, to commit acts overseas that would be illegal in the United Kingdom. Dearlove implied that MI 6 had invoked this section to kill, or attempt to kill, a "Balkan war lord." Dearlove denied that anyone with "license to kill" had tampered with the impetuous Princess Diana. (There is no corollary law in the United States. Indeed, Part 2.11 of Executive Order 12333, an enabling Act for American national security prohibits assassination – this is at Part 2.11. This probably explains why the two men with licenses to kill that I knew were hesitant to exercise that right and couldn’t show me the license itself – although the Seal spent a long time flipping through his credit cards before acknowledging that he had probably misplaced the actual document.)

I think that it’s interesting to observe that the exact phrase "license to kill" appears in Shakespeare. In fact, I believe that some echo of this phrase probably underlies the later literary use of the concept by Ian Fleming. The expression is used in Act IV, scene iii of Shakespeare’s Henry VI part Two, probably the first play that the Bard wrote entirely by himself.

Henry VI (II) is generally lifeless, comprised of bombastic exchanges between various conspirators against the feckless King. However, the first dash of recognizably Shakespearian drama occurs in the fourth act. At that point, the stage is taken by a group of peasants and tradesmen, the same kind of caricatured "rude mechanicals" that will later appear as slavishly loyal to the Athenian crown in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. These rural commoners are led by Jack Cade, a charismatic peasant who claims to be related to the Mortimer family – that is, the Duke of York, an enemy to King Henry VI. Cade urges a rebellion against the King and gathers his followers into a ragtag army. The rebels manage to kill a few noblemen who have underestimated the strength of the insurgency. Cade reaches London and taps the famous stone with his sword, a weapon appropriated from a nobleman killed by his rabble, and declares himself Lord Mayor. The King’s troops put down the rebellion when the common people in London recognize that governance by a peasant lout from Kent will be bad business for them and rise against insurgents. Cade is mortally wounded. Later, his body is dragged through the streets of London, quartered and his limbs sent as warnings to villages in Kent thought to be particularly implicated in the rising.

Shakespeare’s peasant rebels are witty anarchists. They talk in jargon and apply the expertise of their respective trades as part of their uprising – a butcher, for example, is expected to slaughter the Crown’s minions. Cade is belligerent, funny, and energetic and, although monstrous, he is the best thing in the play. The audience’s egalitarian sympathies are with this bold rebel who declares that anyone who so much as knows how to write his own name should be executed – it’s like Mao’s cultural revolution or Trump’s insurgency against the elites. Furthermore, Cade’s program is one that parodies the excesses of the upper class – the rights that he seizes are those that are traditionally held by noblemen and royalty. (For instance, he declares that he will exercise droit du seigneur.) Shakespeare deploys Cade’s rebellion both as a veiled attack on upper class privilege but also as a mirror for the various rebellions vexing the regime – each faction seems to divide into smaller factions by a process of seemingly unlimited fission. Accordingly, Cade’s rebellion doubles the uprising of the House of York that will ultimately produce Richard III – it’s typically Shakespearian to show an event and, then, parody (and criticize) that event by showing it enacted by people of lower social status.

Cade’s rebellion is noteworthy for a famous quotation originating in that part of Henry VI (II). After Jack Cade has exhorted his men to rebellion, a follower named Dick, a butcher, cries: "The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers." Cade responds that parchment on which lawyers write deeds and warrants is a "monstrous" thing and that bee’s wax used to produce documents "under seal" sting the common man like a bee itself. He urges his followers to enlarge their violence and to kill anyone who can read or write or "keep an accompt" (that is, "keep accounts" or do bookkeeping).

At the battle of Blackheath, Shakespeare has Cade call for Dick, the enemy of the Bar, described as the "butcher of Ashford." Cade praises Dick for having killed a number of noblemen. Then, he says:

They fell before thee like sheep and oxen and thou behav’st thyself as if thou had been in thine own slaughterhouse; therefore, thus will I reward thee, the Lent shall be as long again as it is, and thou shalt have a license to kill for a hundred lacking one.

The term "license to kill" is my focus. This is the phrase that I think Ian Fleming cribbed from this play. In this context, a "license to kill" means a legal franchise to kill animals and produce meat during Lent. Traditionally, Catholics were prohibited from eating red meat (or fowl) during the forty days of Lent. However, the Crown granted certain butchers a "license to kill" so that they could produce meat for people exempt from Lenten fasting and dietary requirements. The Church recognized that a forty-day prohibition on meat might be dangerous to pregnant women or people with health problems. Accordingly, some butchers were allowed to produce meat throughout Lent for the specific purpose of serving that group of customers. Of course, prohibition always spawns violation of that prohibition. Presumably, butchers granted a Lenten "license to kill" were particularly popular during the 40 days of abstinence – I expect that all manner of people, and not just those with frail health, might patronize a butcher with an exclusive "license to kill" during Lent. Thus, a monopoly "license to kill" would be particularly lucrative to its holder.

In his speech, Cade blasphemously announces that he will extend Lent to eighty days, thereby increasing the value of the "license to kill" he plans to grant to the butcher, Dick. Shakespeare is amused that Cade’s arrogance extends to far as to adjust the calendar and make changes to Lent – it’s like the French revolutionaries renaming the months after 1789 and abolishing the Holy Days. Furthermore, Cade promises to reward Dick’s bloody service by granting him this monopoly "license to kill" for not merely one 80 day period of Lent, but for a "lease" of "one-hundred lacking one" – that is for 99 years.

So far as I know, no critic has observed that Fleming’s "license to kill" may originate in Henry VI (part Two). I have now rectified that omission.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- S (A celebrity -- saved by the Katchinas)




On the airplane departing Albuquerque, Julie sat next to a celebrity. Every seat was taken on the plane. We were crushed together, sitting stoically with our shoulders flexed inward and our knees pressed together, hip to hip, and the pilot announced in his jovial Tennessee-accented voice that we were privileged to be serving the father of one of the best and most competent Air Traffic Controllers in the region, naming the man with a "shout-out," so that the man, a big, square-cut fellow with glasses and a friendly smile, could whisper to Julie, his seat-mate, "that’s me."

Julie spoke for a while with the celebrity, a gentleman probably about my age. He said that his son had just suffered a painful break-up with his girlfriend and that the young man was left alone with only his dogs for company and, so, he had come down to Albuquerque from Bloomington, Minnesota for a visit.

"How is your son doing?" Julie asked.

"Okay, considering," the man said. "He is on-duty right now in the tower."

I don’t know what the plane was carrying in its cargo-hold: gold treasure from lost Spanish mines or plutonium from Los Alamos in specially designed vessels or corpses in lead sarcophagi or some combination of these things together with luggage, salesman’s heavy cases of pharmaceuticals, Acoma pots in bubble-wrap, and who knows all what, but the aircraft was too heavy and as it careened down the runway, the wings clawed at the sky, but the sky offered no hold, there was no traction, and, so, the plane went faster and faster and the glass and steel buildings of Albuquerque flew by with bewildering speed, but still the plane would not lift off. At the very end of the runway, the plane tilted upward and zoomed forward, but at a height of only a dozen feet above the parched desert. Buildings were ahead and beyond them the buttes and mesas under Sandia Peak and, then, five-thousand feet of escarpment itself and I thought that there was no way the airplane could clear those obstacles if it couldn’t rise more than a sapling’s height into the air. Then, the plane began to shudder violently and the wing blurred and the window portal rattled so loudly that I thought it was going pop out of the wall and, vibrating in this way, the plane tilted upward again and caught a hold of some invisible ramp or surface in the sky so that it shot upward with a ferocity that caused the luggage in the bins overhead to slam back against the bulkhead compartments.

Everyone pretended that things were okay.

The plane found a groove between the mountains and drove through it and, then, the sky darkened and the sun set and the earth was covered with low, writhing clouds.

We reached Minneapolis but were early and so the plane was detoured far to the west to circle over Willmar or Sioux Falls. Then, a window opened for our landing and, so, the airplane powered down out of the clouds, descending in a steep dive. Something was wrong the landing gear. I could hear the motor deploying the gear whining beneath my seat, a high-pitched noise that went on and on like a car trying to start on a sub-zero day. Every time, the landing gear extruded from the belly of the plane some great fist pounded the wheels back up into the aircraft. And, all the while, we were dropping like a stone out of the sky.

The plane pierced the cloud cover and I could see the wet runways only a few feet below the plane’s wing tip. The wheels had not deployed and, instead, the plane had extruded two raw hands, bloody and with talons, to grope downward for the concrete that was rising rapidly toward us. The plane reached out and caught the earth in its Katchina-grasp and we smashed hard onto the runway shooting beyond the end of the landing zone and, then, careening hard to the left, so that we almost toppled over.

Everyone gasped as if the wind had been knocked out of them.

We followed the celebrity with the air-traffic controller son down the jet way. He was limping a little.

The moment he emerged from the jetway, his cell-phone rang. It was his son verifying that he had survived the flight. The man held the phone to his ear with trembling hands. The calamity that we had narrowly escaped turned his face white and bloodless. He staggered to a seat and crumpled into it.

But we were back, returned to Minnesota, in one piece.


October 26 - December 1, 2016

NEW MEXICO DIARY -- R (Siri - Jambo Cafe - a desert rat)




A friend, greatly accomplished in the culinary arts, recommended that Julie and I eat at the Jambo Café, a restaurant specializing in African-Caribbean food. This café is located at a mall thirty blocks to the south of the downtown area and, so, we had to drive. I asked Julie to program her telephone to find the place for us.

By map, the route was simple enough. The strip mall was located on Cerrillos Road and I knew how to reach that road – it was simply matter of turning onto the street outside the hotel and, then, continuing southward, veering right at each place where the road branched. But the telephone had a different idea how to reach restaurant: only a block away from the hotel, the phone ordered me to turn sharply right and follow a drainage ditch to the west. Soon enough, we had left the downtown behind and were driving through residential neighborhoods of old brick houses, utilitarian neighborhoods crouching along bleak-looking railroad yards. The phone demanded that we continue in this direction for many blocks, through a number of intersections, heading outward toward what seemed the outskirts of town. Then, the phone directed another sharp right onto an even narrower and more improbable street, a lane passing between Montessori schools and little real estate offices, then, limping over speed bumps past public schools – the homes were all one story, only three- or four-room structures spread across the treeless desert. After driving stop-and-start through this neighborhood for twenty blocks, I came to Cerrillos Road, a limb of the street passing by the hotel to the north. Some orange barrels blocked one of the turn lanes and I could see traces of construction along the road, but traffic was flowing efficiently. To the left, an unprepossessing strip mall stretched across a parking lot – Jambo café was crushed between the Hobby Lobby and PetSmart.

We were early notwithstanding the circuitous drive and, so, we looked at some relics and Africa-themed knickknacks in the Jambo import store on the other side of the Hobby Lobby. There was an exquisitely carved Dogon door and some chimeras – old African wood effigies assembled to sit atop new pedestals floridly carved in ebony-colored wood. Julie bought a few wicker-woven animals, a giraffe, a hippo, and an elephant – these figures could be used as anchors for a key chain. Stacks of Jambo café cookbooks were piled by the cash-register.

The Jambo café itself was crowded, an aromatic space densely packed with tables, dimly lit with a few tapestry-like hangings on the wall. The waiter was flamboyantly gay with his long hair tucked into a samurai bun at the back of his skull. It was our last night in Santa Fe and so we ordered extravagantly: first, the waiter bought a saucer with some cornmeal, water, and oil, then, we drank cocktails made from colored liqueurs. We asked the waiter to bring a bottle of Goats Do Roam wine from South Africa and, then, as starters, a cup of cocoanut shrimp bisque soup for me and plantain crab cakes for Julie. I had a combination plate with coconut chicken curry, goat stew, and a lentil stew. For dessert, I had mango cobbler with ice-cream. Julie had date coconut flourless chocolate cake with whipped cream. Everything was very good, the flavors in the food reminding me generally of Indian cuisine. It was a Monday night, but the restaurant was full to overflowing and very convivial. When we left, a half-dozen couples were waiting for a table and one of the cooks was standing on the sidewalk in front of PetSmart smoking a cigarette.

A desert rat with antalgic gait staggered across the parking lot. He was carrying a backpack and had a poncho patterned like a Navajo rug cast over his shoulders. He asked me for money and I gave him two dollars in quarters that were weighing down my pockets. I couldn’t get that change through security.

Out of the Mall parking lot, I turned right and drove on Cerrillos Road straight downtown to the hotel. No turns were required until I reached the Hilton on the Plaza.